Shivaji’ visit to Aurangzeb in 1666
This is one of the most celebrated events in the history of the great Maratha King, the visit to the mughal court of Aurangzeb. His escape not so much his visit attracts all the story telling. But it is important that the visit and the reasons behind it are told. Also important is that the reason behind his imprisonment and subsequent escape.
In the years preceding 1666 Raja Jai Singh the great Rajput King and the greatest general of the Mughal army was sent by Aurangzeb with a great army to subdue the Maratha warlord. He was somewhat successful. He was able to take some of the important forts and reduce the strategic manoeuvrability and economics of Shivaji. But this of course came at a great cost to the mughals in terms of men and material. The mughal army at large and Raja Jai Singh in particular was a general of wide open battle fields with massive batteries of cannons, wide deployment of units and flanking cavalry. The Deccan fields did not allow for such set piece luxury and thus resulted in limited success but the size of the army provided for occupation of what ever they could win but nothing decisive came from it. Shivaji the shrewd general and statesman opened negotiations to buy time and read the oppositions objectives. The outcome was he accepted being a vassal of the mughal Aurangzeb and supported Jai Singh in the further conquest of the Deccan viz. Bijapur and Golconda.
Sometime after this treaty Jai Singh tired of his long campaign in the Deccan which started on 30th September 1664 wanted a replacement and with none found capable decided to use Shivaji as the above. For this to happen he set in motion all the contrivances available to him including offering the Viceroyalty of the Deccan to Shivaji. This was not really promised by Aurangzeb. At any rate Shivaji was induced to visit the mughal court to receive this honour and lets say appointment papers. Shivaji on the other hand saw this opportunity to get a legitimate Viceroyalty and later expand as an independent ruler of the whole of Deccan at the expense of the mughals. Imagine the great mughal corporate machinery providing for him to conquer Bijapur and Golconda after which he can do as he pleases. This was the foresight, vision and courage of the great man, taking the prey out of the tiger’s fangs.
Shivaji thus left for the mughal court in March of 1666 and was supposed to arrive on 11th May 1666 a day before Aurangzeb’s coronation so that he could be showed the manners of the court. 12th May was the date when Aurangzeb was to formally become emperor of Hindustan some 5 months after Shah Jehan died. Aurangzeb had usurped the throne in 1658 but did not take the title of emperor till his father died. Thus on the day of his formal coronation was also the day when Shivaji was to meet the tyrant. But things did not go as planned. Shivaji due to travel delays arrived on the 12th of May and thus had no chance of being introduced to the formal and stifling mughal court. He was straight away escorted to the ‘Diwan i Khas’. Shivaji paid respect and submitted gifts and during this entire period Aurangzeb did not say a word to Shivaji as a mark of welcome, recognition or acknowledgement and was made to stand behind a row of ‘5 hazari’ noblemen (5 thousand horse noblemen). Shivaji was forgotten after this and the court formalities proceeded as normal.
Let’s take a quick peep into Shivaji’s mind. This was the not the reception he had in mind considering the promises made by Raja Jai Singh the high and mighty mughal general. His mind was ill at ease since he entered Agra. First he had been welcomed not outside Agra as per protocol but in the heart of the city and that too by Ram Singh (son of Jai Singh) and Mukhlis Khan junior officers. No presents or gifts or high titles were given to welcome him and finally he was made to stand behind 5 hazaris. When he learnt that he was standing behind 5 hazaris “What!” he exclaimed “My son of nine years was created a 5 hazari in absentia, my general Netaji Raoji is a 5 hazari. And I am standing behind them” Then he asked who was the person in front of him. Ram Singh replied it was Raja Jaswant Singh. This was the final straw. “Jaswant, whose back my soldiers have seen! I stand behind him? What does this mean”? Many hours of torment, disrespect and pride he swallowed since his arrival but this was it. He walked out of the Diwan i Khas. His departure was not unnoticed as the place was of limited audience and presence. It was a step he took at the end of which he said to Ram Singh “My destined day of death has arrived, either you will slay me, or I kill myself. Cut off my head, if you like, but I am not going to the emperor’s presence again”. He never did.
Days passed in diplomatic exchanges between Shivaji and the emperor to soothe nerves and seizing this breach Raja Jaswant Singh and the emperor’s harem hatched a conspiracy to arrest or kill Shivaji. Aurangzeb accepted this plan. Shivaji was imprisoned in his house. He was destined to die or exile to Kabul.
Using the delays in the royal court proceedings to kill or exile Shivaji to Kabul, Shivaji started planning escape. Shivaji feigned illness and sent out sweets to Brahmins, religious mendicants and Hindu courtiers. They were carried in huge baskets slung on a pole carried by two men and each day this happened without fail and the guards searched without fail. After a few weeks the guards went slack and stopped searching and this is what Shivaji was waiting for. On the 19th of August 1666 he and his son Shambhuji got into 2 baskets and escaped. Outside the city Maratha infantry officers comprising of Niraji Raoji, Datta Trimbak and Raghumitra escorted the two fugitives dressed as mendicants via Mathura to Prayag and from there to Varansi and then into Chattisgarh, Golconda and then into Raigarh fort.
Suspicion fell on Ram Singh the son of Raja Jai Singh and rightly so. Ram Singh was in connivance but never directly involved. Ram Singh was deposed of his rank and forbidden court duties. Things reverted to normalcy soon after his powerful father came back to Agra. In the interim Ram Singh acted gallantly and challenged the emperor to defame him. Aurangzeb knowing the delicacy of the situation did not push his luck with the Rajput.
All details are taken from the book of Sir Jadunath Sarkar ‘Shivaji and his times’ and from the Dingal letters of Ram Singh and other Rajput nobles preserved in Jaipur.